Has Manmohanomics Failed Indian Society?
In 1980, when I visited U.S.A, on an official program, an American lady helping me in my meetings told that “tomorrow is Mother’s day, so I would have to take her from her old age home and treat her to a nice lunch.” Here, I asked her, why don’t you then host a home-made lunch for her? Her answer was, “if I bring her home and if she refuses to go back, I will be in a soup”.
I don’t want to argue that this is the western culture. But same kind of scenario is now coming to India too. That the older people are unproductive is the kind of perception the thriving younger population has. Though it is unfortunate, it is a reality.
Blame it on reforms and opening of the economy or the small family norm practiced widely, the reality is that older generation is an anguished lot and neglected too. With the Indian economy opened for the global market, it not only brought foreign goods and services in to the Country but also paved the way for coming in of new customs and habits. A variety of different social expressions too reached Indian shores. Not only new products and services reached the Country but the whole of our social system and society stands transformed in the post free-trade regime.
With the IT boom, that we experienced in India and also the global economy, Indian engineers were much in demand around the world. Issues like Y2K brought in a lot of outsourcing jobs to India. Similarly, Indian software professionals could get a lot of opportunities in the U.S, Europe and elsewhere. Back in India, a BPO boom created large number of employment for Indian youth; hitherto unseen avenues were opened within India.
Youth population of today has a lot of money at their disposal. They make it and spend most of it. Too much money at an age when they can’t decide the best for themselves is creating a lot of problems and often diverting them to vices: pub-culture is an example. In addition, as the Indian professionals migrate to the U.S or Europe or other Countries, back home their parents are left alone for loneliness.
On the top of this, the breaking away of Indian family system, a traditional social security system has collapsed without ever having something new taking birth, except the offers of reverse mortgages via banks and the some old age home programs. Even interest income on term deposits and the pension continues to be taxed, while old man/woman spends lot of money on medicines!
But how many of older people can take advantage of reverse mortgage scheme as scores of them do not own any property and are dependents on children? Moreover, how to ensure freedom to them to avail the facility; will the children easily allow them to do so? In a market driven and a highly target-oriented banking sector, where new era private banks work day and night for enhancing their profit share, it is feared that some malpractices may creep in the system. However, this is just my fear.
As a country with such diversity, towards the end of one’s lives, older people would want to have a life that they can identify with as their culture, tradition and religious background in true spiritual setting. In a less integrated society, if we think cultural integration is possible in the long run, how would older generation people from a heterogeneous background if kept together, in government-managed orphanage, would possibly behave?
Those old people, a vast majority of the low and even middle-income people and poor, who come from different religious backgrounds, caste backgrounds and linguistics background, who cannot afford expensive luxury old age homes, will have to take shelter in the government-run old age homes in the days ahead. In all probability, like in crowded Government hospitals, they would be asked to share bed or sleep on floor! And also imagine the situation of older people from different cultural identities being put together? A well managed and equipped private old age home charge any thing from Rs. 15000 and above a month/ person. How many of our grey-haired people can afford such a luxury? Efficiently-managed Old age homes that provide humane care to our parents are needed.
The scenario as we progress with our reforms could be a group of older people - neglected, and also with fragile health virtually thrown from homes - living together with fights, clashes and arguments.
Market will flourish. Greed for making more profit, building the tallest towers, largest malls will grow in everyone. Older parents will be a disturbance in the process of growth. However, the rich and the elite would create their own set of arrangements for the care of elderly.
Will the market take care of the need of the entire older population? Obviously, the rich and the affluent can have their own arrangement. But the poor will obviously be left out.
There may be rules and laws on paper concerning the protection to older generation and looking after parents. We keep on legislate without meaning much and for serving no purpose.
However, the solution is to educate our future generation that money is not the end of all. From toddlers to the mid-aged should be kept reminded about the need to respect and taking care of our grey-haired population. It is said that, India is a land of spirituality. But there are people who question this perception saying, too much indulgence in religiosity and spirituality indeed is a reflection of a mind that is in deep agony, thirst and hunger which is longing for attaining something unattainable material prosperity?
The fact is that we Indians are deeply materialistic too. We are very good in making money and in business tricks too. Today, we have indeed proved that to the world with our economic enterprises, acquiring and launching new ventures and doing business around all the continents very successfully.
Where would older people especially millions of non-pensioners fit into the entire scheme of reforms. Whom would they approach for their health care needs? Health insurance or medi-care schemes are meant for the healthy that have a very less probability of falling sick, and also for rich, a vast majority are out of the question of being covered by the health insurance companies. Moreover, most Insurance companies don’t extend coverage to those who are 80 or above, time when they need such medical assistance.
How many of these elderly can afford to go to private/corporate hospitals and pay medical bills and purchase medicines that they often require to keep away from age-related diseases? Many of the developed countries have a system to take care of the elderly patients and critically ill citizens.
Free critical illness cover should be a right of each citizen. Free medical care for all the senior citizens has to be implemented. Why should a citizen be thrown out to the mercy of others when he/she face any critical illness? These are the areas where economic reforms should take an Indian avatar. Our imported reform branded people in the South block may not approve it. I wonder why medicines are taxed in India at all. Top of this, service tax on nursing homes and hospitals is further burdening an old man, though this is a discriminatory as huge chunk is outside any pension scheme. Can a mature democracy differentiate like this?
This is a testing time for Indian society, Indian religions and spirituality. How are we going to tackle issue of ills of modern economy? How are we going to ensure a new social system that takes care of older people, disabled and those who need care and protection? The world is looking at India. Is the solution that it is going to bring in is a market- driven solution or government managed public sector solution or a charitable NGO-oriented solution or an amalgam of some of these?
Has Manmohnomics ever addressed these issues? A re-look at Indian society after two decades of its practice would undoubtedly suggest that Manmohanomics has failed Indian people and society. Of course, there are victorious corporations. Real economic issues need not be just balancing budget and better fiscal management alone, but going beyond to address socio-economic concerns.
Manmohan Singh or anyone else, Indian reforms of 1991 would have taken place as it was implemented then. But, the Indians at large believed that he, with ordinary background and as academic, would have used his experience to implement a better policy within the existing requirements and within the framework of the covenants that India might have signed or need to follow.
We require a new arrangement to take care of those who need protection in the context of crumbling social system. Perhaps, a national Senior Citizen Policy is call of the hour. It should encompass aspects like pension for all; medical treatment at States’ cost; shelter over a head; and most importantly exempting all senior citizens above the age of 65 from Income tax. It sounds quite ridiculous that a 70+ year man is asked by a bank to submit 15G or H form to avoid tax deduction at source. All senior citizens need to be issued an identity card to avail facilities on priority basis.
What olds need is not fun and flashy life, but a proper medical care in case of a need. Here, the Late Dr. Y. S. Sekhar Reddy’s Arogyashree scheme in Andhra Pradesh for those below poverty line can provide a lead to the policy makers. In addition, the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation, jointly with Aasra introduced a system of issuing Senior Citizen Cards extending free access to GHMC services and a 20%discount on in and out-patient treatment in a select private hospitals for Senior citizens. After all, their share is just around 8 percent of the total population, can’t the Government be magnanimous to look after their very few needs, particularly when they have contributed their bit in the nation building in their younger days. Corporate sector can be roped in as partners in such programmes as part of corporate social responsibility.